Red Sox History: Memories of players and Fenway Park prior to1967
A Red Sox fan strolls down memory lane
I look at Fenway Park’s memories of both the ballyard and some players, but the first disclosure is that I am not originally a Boston Red Sox fan but a Boston Braves fan. My first baseball game was at Braves Field in 1952 with sparse attendance and a tired and worn ballpark. But boyhood hero Eddie Mathews hit a home run.
As an eight-year-old, we had neighbors, and one was a Braves fan. He would sit on his porch and watch traffic. I later found out he was a casualty of World War II or today what we would call PTSD. But he would listen to the games on the radio, and occasionally we would talk about baseball.
He had a world of insight and recollections of past players – a primary source for a thirsty baseball mind. The common thread of attending games at Fenway Park was the oral history one could pick up from a seat neighbor or listening to others talk baseball. That said, the Braves soon departed, and the Red Sox filled the void. The theme will be that great void from 1955-1966.
One of my first visits to Fenway Park was to see the Braves play the Red Sox in a Jimmy Fund charity game. I remember a home run contest, especially Joe Adcock, who I believe easily won.
Later, I became a regular visitor to Fenway via bus and trolley with teenage independence allowing for such adventurism. A thirty to forty game slate was standard. Occasionally I would sit in the roof boxes that encompassed about 325 seats. Access was via a stairwell, the roof was crisscrossed with catwalks, and a restaurant was located on top. Once while fetching a foul ball, Johnny Most grabbed it and tossed it to me. I assume Most was there for the open bar.
The park itself was dated, and in the late 1950s, the discussion centered around a multi-purpose stadium. The new park would be where the Fens is, and then when completed, Fenway Park would become a parking lot. Tom Yawkey’s interest waned, and the project ended. Thankfully, Boston avoided those circular multi-purpose architectural disasters.
One summer of particular note was sitting with scouts for many games. An usher who I knew let me sit in their area, and it was a fantastic baseball education for a 14-year-old. Any depiction of stereotypical baseball scouts is completely accurate right down to the chaw.
Fenway was a place where you could roam with sparse attendance; you could choose a seat elsewhere and stay until ordered to move, which was rarely done. One memory was of Ike Delock, a right-handed pitcher who was an awful hitter. I stationed myself that day in the far reaches of left field, and Delock hit a wind-aided fly ball that landed right on top of the wall, bounced in the air, and plopped into the netting. It was the cheapest home run I have ever witnessed.
Right field was an adventure as the gamblers were seated in the area between the foul pole and the bullpen. They were betting on every pitch and just about anything else. The end of the seventh inning was usually when the money was exchanged, and most just left.
Batting practice was my favorite time, especially when the heavy hitters were around. Several stand out besides Ted Williams, and there are two in particular. Roy Sievers and Mickey Mantle. Sievers was a former Rookie of the Year (1949) and, for trivia, the last member of the St. Louis Browns to play in the majors. Mantle was on another planet as far as talent. Both would put on a BP show and then carry it to the game.
Players were more accessible in those days as kids would not be shunted away for seeking an autograph. They were worth nothing but bragging rights. You could also hang around the player’s parking lot and wait for them to exit. As a sign of the times, Fords and Chevys were the primary vehicles.
I avoided the bleachers since the seats were wooded benches. The only plus was access to the bullpen and the occasional tossed ball. A thank you to Bob Smith as “Riverboat” would occasionally throw one into the stands, and I got one.
The flag pole in the center field was once part of the playing field, and no padded walls in those days until Fred Lynn’s fence crashing ended that. The other was the large clock over the bleachers that is also just a memory. One pleasant departure is the troughs in the men’s room.
Food at Fenway Park has always been questionable, and I believe they kept the hot dogs in steamed water season to season. But there were no limitations on beer; if you could carry five, you were sold five. Want a smoke? No problem, as you could smoke anywhere. I remember a young Carl Yastrzemski taking BP and forgetting to take his butt out and walking to the cage puffing away.
One of the most significant changes of the Red Sox fan base from that era to the present is color. I cannot recall a black face in the stands at Fenway Park, which has most certainly and thankfully changed.
Fenway fans have never been the docile type and are quick to express their ire over a player. One player, in particular, managed to survive, and that was a shortstop named Don Buddin.
He became “Bootin’ Buddin” to the fans, and it was an appropriate title. Buddin twice topped American League shortstops in errors and twice finished second. Usually, poor defense can be mitigated with hitting, but Buddin had a bat as weak as his glove. The fans were merciless, especially after an all too frequent error.
Players do enjoy exchanges with the fans, and two players stand out for me that played for the Red Sox. The first is Roman Mejias, and the second is Willie Tasby. Tasby would chatter, and Mejias seemed to be practicing his English skills. The opposite was the Yankee’s taciturn Hank Bauer. Bauer had been a decorated soldier from World War II, and his Marine bearings were on display. Did this guy ever smile?
No-hitters are rare, and I have seen several at Fenway Park, and one was by Dave Morehead in 1964. I joined the “Wage Slave” folks and worked in Boston by then and went to a late September game. The place was empty, and Morehead tossed a great game. A talented pitcher who blew his arm out.
My most notable No No was by Mel Parnell, and it was the only baseball game my father ever took me to see. This was 1956 and Parnell’s last season. The final out was made by Parnell, who caught a ball and trotted to first base to cap the no-hitter.
Earl Wilson was built like a linebacker and was a former catcher converted to pitching. Wilson tossed his in 1962 and hit a huge home run. The real attraction was the Angels’ pitcher, which would be lefty media hound, Bo Belinsky.
The last no-hitter was the one tossed by Clay Buchholz in a game I attended with my daughter. She gave me a Buchholz card and the game ticket in a plaque as a gift. A rare item of memorabilia that I have.
The sifting of seats over the years has changed, and it is a pure money grab. The original box seats were where the lower walkway is, and management has redefined what represents a box seat. Anything that exists below the various structural poles is a box seat. At least old removed seats became the seats in the bleachers replacing the benches.
The screen behind home plate did provide vocal entertainment that has disappeared. As a foul ball would roll down the screen, the fans would chorus “ooooh” until the ball boy captured it.
Baseball practiced BOGO (Buy One, Get One Free) long before becoming a marketing tool for businesses. A standard on the schedule was one admission doubleheader, usually on a significant holiday – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day. I enjoyed the Twi-Night ones that would be done in five hours for two games. Bring those back!
If you have gotten this far, thank you for your perseverance. I am sure this article will rattle the memory banks of fans of all ages and fill in their memories of the park and players.